Getting a step ahead of pathogens
In biology and genetics, the concept of epistasis is what gives rise to the whole being more (or less) than the sum of its parts. The quantitative effect of a given mutation upon the traits of an organism has the potential to depend strongly upon the gene versions present in other parts of the genome, or even other mutations co-occurring in that gene. These genetic interactions, termed epistasis, can impact all aspects of organisms and play a pivotal role in the manifestation of sex, ploidy, modularity, robustness, reproductive isolation and the origin of species, the rate of adaptation, and the emergence of genetic mutations within individuals and populations. A recent article in the journal Chaos, published by the American Institute of Physics, examines the possibility of using epistasis to predict the outcome of the evolutionary processes, especially when the evolving units are pathogens such as viruses. The article looks at three topics: empirical evidence from the RNA virus world, mathematical tools, and the application of these tools to particular problems. Santiago Elena and colleagues at Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Plantas have surveyed past work in this field and concluded that even though RNA viruses have small genomes composed of few genes that encode a limited number of proteins, epistasis is abundant and conditions their evolution. The next steps may range from characterizing the statistical distributions of epistasis across hosts, which has tremendous relevance for the emergence of new viruses, to drawing the most likely evolutionary paths a virus may follow in response to treatments with antiviral drugs.
While this research is still in the early stages, Elena sees great potential.
"By increasing our ability to predict the most likely evolutionary paths a virus may follow in response to clinical treatments, we could get a step ahead of them and, perhaps, create new and more durable antiviral therapies," he says.
Source: American Institute of Physics
Latest Science NewsletterGet the latest and most popular science news articles of the week in your Inbox! It's free!
Check out our next project, Biology.Net
From other science news sites
Popular science news articles
- 'Adaptive protein crystal' could form new kind of protective material
- ALMA measures mass of black hole with extreme precision
- Measuring a black hole 660 million times as massive as our sun
- Six new fossil species form 'snapshot' of primates stressed by ancient climate change
- 'Slow' NZ seabed quake sheds light on tsunami-earthquake mechanism
- Algae use their 'tails' to gallop and trot like quadrupeds
- Study suggests medical errors now third leading cause of death in the US
- Stickleback fish adapt their vision in the blink of an eye
- Perceived diversity in neighborhoods is related to more prejudice, study finds
- Imodium for a legal high is as dumb and dangerous as it sounds
- Ancient marine sediments provide clues to future climate change
- It takes more than peer pressure to make large microgels fit in
- Hubble discovers moon orbiting the dwarf planet Makemake
- Hybrid forms of the common house mosquito may serve as vectors between birds and humans
- Fossils may reveal 20-million-year history of penguins in Australia